Drug addiction in Florida is not just a disease for the young. A growing number of senior citizens suffer from substance addiction and dependency as well. With such a large number of Florida retirees, both in the Baby Boomer generation and older, identifying the problem is complicated. A veil of mystery is drawn around drug-related deaths in the elderly, so few hard numbers are available to assess how widespread the problem really is.

Prescription Medications, Not Illicit Drugs, are the Bigger Culprit in Senior Addictions

Where younger generations tend to experiment with and become addicted to illicit or “street” drugs, senior citizens are more likely to form an addiction to prescription medications. Sometimes, addiction springs from the combination of a valid prescription and inferior medical supervision. However, some elderly addicts intentionally abuse and become addicted to medications, and the numbers may vary between men and women. 

According to A Place for Mom, seniors may take medications in a “compulsive and harmful way.” These drug classifications are the most common culprits:

  • Opioids: Pain medications such as Percocet, Vicodin, Fentanyl and their generic equivalents
  • Benzodiazepines: Anxiety medications such as Xanax, Valium, Ativan and Klonopin
  • Stimulants: Drugs such as Ritalin and Adderall, used in elderly patients to treat narcolepsy, obesity, and other health conditions.

Supervised medical detoxification may be the safest way for a senior to start the road to recovery from addiction to those types of drugs.

Alcohol Addiction is Easier to Spot but Just as Dangerous as Prescription Meds

Alcohol addiction is not always as stealthy as addiction to prescription medications can be. While social drinking is acceptable and drinking problems may “fly under the radar,” alcoholism might also become a more obvious issue when a senior buys and consumes alcohol more frequently than for ordinary social events.

Some of the signs that there is an alcohol problem or an addiction to prescription medications include:

  • Obvious impairment such as slurred speech
  • Poor hygiene and an unkempt appearance
  • Strong smells of alcohol
  • Retreating or isolating behavior
  • Mood swings
  • Asking for early prescription refills
  • Bottles of alcohol or pills hidden throughout the home
  • Doctor and pharmacy shopping

Substance Abuse in the Elderly Population is Probably Underreported 

According to DrugRehab.com,  overdoses in the senior population may “hide in plain sight.” In some cases, drug overdose deaths may be misidentified as death due to natural causes. That is because sudden deaths in seniors are not as uncommon as in younger people. Fewer alarms go off for first responders and medical examiners encountering an older person who has passed away.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration explains that one theory behind the rise in addictions in older people goes hand-in-hand with an increased need for prescription medications. They explain, “Older adults are at higher risk for medication misuse than the general population because of their elevated rates of pain, sleep disorders/insomnia, and anxiety.” Seniors may also develop cognitive issues that impair their ability to regulate medication dosage.

Elderly People May Face Limitations with Finding or Accepting Care

Although more seniors in Florida and throughout the country are now identified as having a substance abuse problem, treatment such as acute care still tends to focus on younger people. Elderly people might also be more inclined to avoid treatment because of a lack of transportation, fear of being discovered as an addict, and stigmas of the past that make it hard to admit that there is a problem or accept help.

The Orlando Sentinel explains that low-income seniors are especially at risk of either poor substance abuse care or none at all. That is especially true when Medicare is the only health care coverage available.

Elderly residents of Florida are not immune to drug and alcohol addiction, and the numbers are slowly increasing. Without proper identification and exposure to treatment options, many seniors suffer needlessly. Orlando Recovery Center can help.

If you or someone you care about is struggling with an addition, help is a phone call away.
Contact us to learn about programs for senior citizens today.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.